by Emilee Gaebler
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Last week, the “media bill” made its way through Argentina’s lower congress, passing in the lower house by a vote of 134 to 92. It then moved forwards, where the Senate also passed it. This week President Cristina Fernandez signed it into force.
The Argentine “media bill” is being criticized as way for the government to choke the freedom of the press. The bill makes the sale and distribution of newsprint a national interest. This places it under government control so that the paper is equally distributed to all media sources and has a set price.
Papel Prensa, which distributes 78% of all newsprint in Argentina, is now mandated by the government to operate at maximum capacity in order to meet all domestic needs. They must also supply the state with a regular investment plan.
The main shareholders of Papel Prensa are the Clarins media group, which owns a 49% share and the La Nación media group, which owns 22.5%. The government owns a 27.5% share. Both Clarins and La Nación have stated that the bill is an underhanded government expropriation of private property.
It is well known that President Fernandez believes Clarins media group provides unfair reporting on herself and her government. She has also alleged in the past that the sale of Papel Prensa to Clarins sometime during the 1976-1983 military dictatorship was illegal.
“The intention to seize Papel Prensa isn’t an isolated case, but the latest in a whole series of measures aimed at controlling the media,” said opposition deputy Federico Pinedo.
Clarins newspaper notes that there are a number of disturbing aspects to the bill. First is the passage that allows for the state to unilaterally take a majority share of the company as the newsprint distribution is now classified a national interest. Also of concerns is the portion that would permit the Economy Minister to determine how much newsprint to import, establishing government quotas that have never before existed.
The Argentine Association of Journalistic Enterprises also criticized the bill in a statement they released, noting that the actions taken will cause more problems than they propose to solve.
Supporters of the bill state that in the past, the monopoly held by Papel Prensa over access to newsprint has limited the abilities of independent media sources. Smaller newspapers like Pagina 12 and El Tiempo Argentino applauded the passage of the bill.
Concurrent with the media bill passage is a new anti-terrorism bill that classifies certain “economic crimes,” including certain actions taken by the media, as terrorist acts. The bill states that “economic terrorist acts” are those done with an intent to terrorize the general population.
Argentine newspaper, O Estado de Sao Paulo reported that this measure would allow the government to consider “terrorist” anything that negatively portrays or criticizes the government. This second bill is viewed as a much more cunning move by the Fernandez administration to ensure that media sources within the nation are kept in check.
A third bill passed through the government at the same time. It limits the amount of property that is purchased in Argentina by foreign companies or foreign individuals. The law was passed close to unanimously in both houses. It limits foreign entities from owning more than 15% of Argentine territory.
All three together are leading some commentators to note that the way is now paved for President Fernandez to establish an authoritarian regime. Since she was sworn in for her second term as president, just two weeks ago, Fernandez’s administration has pushed through 11 new laws.
For more information, please see:
Merco Press – Argentine Media Bill: “A Dictatorship Couldn’t Have Done it Better” – 27 December 2011
Pulse America – Argentina This Week – 26 December 2011
BBC News – Argentina to Tighten Controls on Newsprint Supplies – 16 December 2011
Center for International Media Assistance – Argentina: Controversial Law to Control Newsprint Production in Argentina Moves Forward – 15 December 2011